Tag Archive: art

Exhibition Road

Natural History Museum, London

Natural History Museum, London

We knew it would be busy at the museum with it being half term but we were not expecting the crowds to be quite as big as they were. The queue was so long that they took us on a tour of the grounds including garden areas we did not even know existed let alone seen before. Most of the queues was for the dinosaur exhibition which we have visited a couple of times before but this time it was not on our itinerary.

Our destination was the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition which features its winners and finalists. Naturally we were not permitted to take any photos so you will have to take our word for it when we tell you that some of the pictures were truly stunning. I can see why the overall winner got first prize but, for myself, I did not enjoy the sight of one fox carrying the bloodied corpse of another. True to life, “nature red in tooth and claw” and all that, but not pretty.

After lunch we wandered down Exhibition Road. This street made the news recently as an experiment in pedestrian/traffic management. There are no kerbs and all travellers are supposed to share the same space. Think of a pedestrianised street down which everyday traffic is allowed to travel: bicycles could and did go anywhere, for instance. It sort of worked in that it slowed everyone down. Meanwhile we came across this sculpture…

"When Soak Becomes Spill" by Subodh Gupta

“When Soak Becomes Spill” by Subodh Gupta

It is supposed to show a drink poured out and over flowing (think of a fizzy drink being poured into a glass, bubbling up and over). It was made from various steel buckets, pots and pans.

close up of "When Soak Becomes Spill"

close up of “When Soak Becomes Spill”

You can see it on the corner between the Victoria and Albert and Natural History museums. The sculpture was said to represent a comment on the wastefulness of consumer society. I thought that there was a resemblance of the ancient notion of a cornucopia: a horn of plenty. That represented good harvests, more than enough for everyone, a generous blessing. How did we get from generosity to wastefulness? Perhaps the difference is whether we use left overs on another day or simply throw them away; whether we use the generous blessings we receive for ourselves alone or to help others as well.



During my recent sabbatical I went on pilgrimage, did some Bible study and had a retreat. Alongside that I decided to reflect on my experiences and studies in a way that did not confine my response to “head knowledge” – useful though that can often be. So for part of my theological reflection I painted my response.

The challenge was to find a way of planning and executing the work well without over-thinking it; in fact, I tried not to spend much time consciously thinking about the subject matter if I could help it. That did not mean donning a blindfold, waving my arms about and hoping that paint would land on canvas rather than on the floor, walls or ceiling. What it did mean was that I started out with a vague idea of the shape but otherwise painted randomly on the canvas. Colours were selected according to my mood or what I felt about the subject, rather than according to an accurate representation.

Of course this means that the results say as much about me at the time of painting as it does about the putative subject. However, there were some surprises along the way. For example, my first “Out of the Whirlwind” picture has a face and a two birds on it. They emerged from my random slapping on of thick acrylic paint when I was simply trying to break up the plain background. When I stepped back and saw them I decided not to paint over them but to go round them and let them stand out with a little extra colour here and there. The theological point is that while trying to convey the chaos of the whirlwind of Job chapter 38 verse 1, I ended up with something that made a kind of sense. You may recall that chapter 38 in Job is where Job hears God’s reply to his various complaints. God spoke out of the whirlwind (or storm). Chaos does not stop God being God – God brings order out of chaos (see Genesis chapter 1, for example). What the pictures mean will in part be up to each viewer.

The other pictures relate to the letter to Philemon and to the life of St Francis

Take a look here.

… in order to see all the outside.

It was a trip to the Liverpool Tate art gallery and one of Picasso’s paintings there that was the starting point for these thoughts.

"Still Life" by Picasso

“Still Life” by Picasso

I reckon that Art divides people into two camps: those who hold strong opinions and those who don’t. I am not sure which one I belong to. Some art is thought-provoking, some is beautiful, some is challenging and some, to be honest, leaves me cold.

But art, such as painting and drawing, is one way that people try to explore themes of truth and beauty. The other week we saw a picture in a gallery by Picasso – a still life – which we were told was of some fruit and a violin. There seemed to be bits and pieces of them in that painting but it was nothing like a photograph, say. The description on the wall helped a bit by explaining that Picasso was experimenting with a style that tried to see all sides of something at the same time. Instead of painting a flat picture using lines of perspective, he tried to show all the sides of the fruit and the musical instrument. I found it helped to think of it like this. If you look at an orange you can see just one side or the top or the bottom at any given angle; and if you take a photograph or make a conventional drawing, the same applies: you only see part of the surface at a time. Now peel the orange and flatten it out. It is no longer round but you can see the whole surface. Now try peeling a violin… you can’t, but that is sort of what Picasso was trying to do in his painting. He was trying to show the whole picture, the whole truth you might say, but the result was pretty weird to look at.

Whenever we see something that is beautiful or read about something that is true, we may be given a glimpse of God’s Beauty and Truth. That is where art and Christian faith overlap, for surely part of God’s mission is for people to catch a vision of his beauty and to be inspired by the truth of the gospel of God’s love for the world.

This is the time of year when the natural world steps up a gear producing blossoms and flowers in a myriad of beautiful colours and shapes. It is as good a reason as any to celebrate God’s goodness with a flower festival, for example. But we can also take a few moments to gaze outside, perhaps looking at a flowery garden or taking a trip into the countryside. There we may enjoy the beauty of Nature’s art and wonder at the true splendour of God’s love.

“O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 96 verse 6)

…but after less than a day my companions not only stopped laughing at my witty pun but, tellingly, they stopped complaining too. It also has to be said that the song, “Ferry cross the Mersey” (by Gerry and the Pacemakers) became a bit of an ear worm. That was partly due to it being used to punctuate the commentary on the said ferry crossing the River Mersey from Liverpool.

The ferry trip was one of the highlights of our couple of days in Liverpool as part of a post-Easter break. The weather was kind (mostly sunny) and there was a good view of the cityscape. As we had taken the first ferry of the day we found a place near the front in the open top deck and simply enjoyed being out in the open on the wide river.

Something that struck me about the commentary on the ferry and also on the sightseeing bus: they both mentioned slavery. Much of Liverpool’s wealth in the 18th century (and early 19th) was derived from its status as a busy port. Its cargo included human beings; i.e. slaves. I noticed that the acknowledgement was made without either excuse or sensationalism but as a bare fact.

We also heard about the history of the Liver birds which sit atop one of the buildings. Apparently the commission was for two eagles but the designer got them confused with cormorants. The results are those two unique Liverpudlian birds. The ferry service (but not the particular vessels of course) pre-dates the city. Hundreds of years ago the river was wider and the banks marshy and muddy. The ferrymen found a convenient pool on the bank where they could pick up and set down passengers and their cargo. The pool is long gone (round about the police headquarters which is at least 100 metres from the current river front) but that muddy pool lent its name to the city.

As we were there only a couple of days – one full day really – there is much we didn’t see and only scratched the surface so to speak. We did visit the spaceport near the Seacombe ferry terminal. We were not terribly impressed – possibly making unfair comparisons with the National Space Centre in Leicestershire for instance – but it did not help that several of the buttons etc on some displays did not work (not even an “out-of-order” apology notice. Yes, we did let the staff know before we left. Having said that, there was a sci-fi exhibition including various “Doctor Who” monsters and characters. It was curated by a local fundraising organisation and well presented. I couldn’t resist this photo of the “TARDIS”.

front door of the TARDIS! mind the floor

front door of the TARDIS! mind the floor

We visited both Cathedrals, Anglican and Roman Catholic, as well as the Liverpool Tate gallery and the Maritime Museum – for the slavery exhibition. Our accommodation was in the Youth Hostel in a family room, which was OK. It suited our needs to dine there of the evenings too. Below are some photos from our ferry crossing and our brief sight-seeing tour.

This is a Pollock

Pollock apr 2013 (4)b

sketch of a Pollock fish

and this is a Jackson Pollock

A Pollock called "Jackson"

A Pollock called “Jackson”


78 Derngate

From model railways to art nouveau

78 Derngate - house and museum

78 Derngate – house and museum

Do you know something? England (in general), and Northampton (in particular), is actually a rather nice place in the sunshine. That’s what I thought as I set out to find 78 Derngate. After I got my bearings, I found it at the other end of the road to the Royal and Derngate theatre and to Matt Smith’s (current Dr Who) tailor (allegedly). If you were a local you might have known that the house and museum are almost opposite the Cheyne Walk entrance to the general hospital.

The house is probably most famous for its connection with the Scottish artist and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh who was commissioned by Bassett-Lowke when he wanted to refurbish his house in 1916. If you are interested in the history of design or of the early twentieth century then you could happily spend an hour or two here (my ticket cost £6.70). There’s a café too, as well as exhibition space, which are free to enter. The current exhibition is called “Spring into Summer” (till 30th June) and features a number of paintings of various interest and quality.

Oh dear, it looks like I am going to damn this place with faint praise – not intentionally, I promise you. It is not a big museum – in fact the exhibition, entrance and café are in numbers 80 and 82 – and my interest is not in the art nor in the details of the restoration. In fact, it was a TV programme about model railways – and their social history – that piqued my interest. The then owner of the house, Wenham Joseph Bassett-Lowke, was one of the first people to popularise model railways in this country. Firstly through German imports, then, after the “Great War” (World War I) through manufacture in this country. It was an aside in that programme that informed me that this interesting, perhaps intimidating, pioneering character had lived just a few miles away at 78 Derngate.

The story also includes links to art nouveau, the Fabian society, politics, local history, theatre and even George Bernard Shaw. If you do get a chance to visit, take a look at the guest bedroom. I wish I had a photo to show you: it is somewhat startling and the stripes that are meant to evoke a canopy hurt the eye. I had to avert my gaze. Apparently, on one visit, George Bernard Shaw was warned about the room he was to stay in but he is said to have replied that that was alright because he always slept with his eyes shut!

Thus I came to the Glasgow style starting with model railways via 78 Derngate.

I would not spend all day or all morning here. However, having gift-aided my entrance fee, I now have an annual pass and intend bringing some house guests when they next visit.

Derngate, Northampton, looking north towards the theatres

Derngate, Northampton, looking north towards the theatres


EDIT, 2015: In light of Mr Harris’s criminal conviction, I was going to take this post down but that would be unfair on those artists who worked so hard on this project. Instead I have removed his pictures from here out of respect for his victims.

We queued in the Waterloo rain for well over an hour to see an exhibition of art “as seen on TV”. Unusually for modern art we were allowed to take photographs. In fact, I asked the curator twice, just to make sure and saw lots of people snapping away without hindrance – apart from the jostling crowds. Still, most people were polite and we all did our best to allow everyone to see and photo their favourites in turn.

I guess Rolf Harris is a bit like Marmite (love him or hate him) but on TV he seems a genuinely nice person and having seen his paintings on several occasions I would suggest that his talent is perhaps underrated. I happen to like his style (though not all his paintings). This exhibition featured amateur and professional artists – sixty in all – as part of a project to depict six decades of Her Majesty’s reign. There was a mixture of styles, interpretations and levels of skill. There were reminiscences of happier days as well as some humour and satire; portraits, street scenes, cartoon sketches and abstract paintings too.

Incidentally, the TV programme which drew our attention to this exhibition was of the “must be done before the deadline” variety but not as manic as those “SOS” programmes I avoid. A feature of this programme that impressed me was that the two “popular presenters” themselves actually could paint. I have not included Ms Rice’s work as it happened not to be one of my favourites but I would note that someone commented that “she has caught her [the Queen’s] stance well.”


lino print

cartoon of the annus horribilis – the horrible year, 1992

The exhibition lasted less than a week and they had far more visitors than they expected. Apparently they usually accommodate a couple of hundred people for one of their theatre performances but on the first day of the exhibition they had fifteen hundred people passing through. Overall I would give the exhibition three stars or seven out of ten. I think I liked the idea of the project more than the actual pictures themselves.

[link removed]

Just a reminder: I do not own the copyright to these pictures so I cannot give you permission to use or copy them. I would guess that non-commercial use would be acceptable.

I borrowed this idea from another member of my family. It is a simple one but some of the results were quite interesting. What we did was to go for a walk and we took a camera with us. (A digital one as the idea involved taking lots of photos and deleting most of them). As we walked we took photos of anything that took our fancy, sometimes just turning round on the spot and snapping away at random – not really looking at what we were doing and certainly not taking too much time trying to compose the perfect shot.

We found that you can do this with the Nintendo DS game thing that has a camera built-in or with a standard digital camera. Here are a selection. They are “as is” from a couple of different locations and you may notice that it was a rainy day for some of them!


Coming back to this post a little later I wondered if there could be anything spiritual about this. I think there is and it is in the idea of “attentiveness”. As I understand it, attentiveness is when we make a point of paying attention, when we notice things. I think “experts” manage this by looking closely at a leaf or a pebble. Put like that it might seem a bit daft staring at a bit of rock for hours on end but please bear with me.

One of the chief characteristics of our culture is impatience. For example, no sooner have we acquired the latest gadget do we then want the upgrade. Often we want the next thing long before the current thing has worn out. We tend to rush – we might walk down the road but probably hurry or more likely take the car. So we see the buildings, trees, people etc that we pass but we don’t really notice them. Walking rather than driving is a start especially if we don’t have to be somewhere soon and things may become less of a blur: we might notice individual persons rather than just “people”, for instance.

If we slow down we can make a point of looking at things. That’s what the random photos helped with (even though we hadn’t set out with that intention) – we noticed things we hadn’t before: the pile of leaves wasn’t just a mess we had to step around; seen from different angles the metal fence made different patterns; stopping at the bridge meant we saw a train passing; pausing at the bus shelter allowed us to wonder why the poster was all scrunched up.

The more attention we give something, the more we are likely to notice, the more, then, we might appreciate it. We just might value it more. Paying attention, noticing things, “attentiveness”, is a spiritual activity because it can lead us to a better appreciation of the world, nature, creation, and people who surround us in our ordinary lives.

And it’s nice not to be rushed all the time.

Falling upwards (1)

This post is really just an excuse to put up few photos of some paintings. I make no claim about their quality, relevance or artistry. They are here because they represent one part of my recovery from depression. After the initial shock, exhaustion, relief mixed with guilt, and numbness there was then a period of coming to terms with my situation. It was not the point where I started to get better; it was the point when the depth and extent of my depression and anxiety became clearer to me. If you like, it was then I began to understand how ill I had become.

Then came a stage (and I use the term “stage” only in a vague sense of ‘some period of time that followed’) when I felt that I was no longer falling down, so to speak, no longer at the bottom but beginning to ‘fall upwards’. This was not recovery or cure; my problems had not been solved – at best I had got many (but not all) of them described. This was not “the beginning of the end” but, as Sir Winston Churchill once said, it might have been the end of the beginning.

So, as Autumn came to an end I started painting. The idea was to indicate leaves falling upwards. No, contrary to a suggestion made by one member of my family, I did not do the picture and then simply turn it upside down! There are four pictures: the first with an approximate resemblance to leaves ‘falling’ off a tree; the second uses Autumn-leaf colours; the third takes one of the Autumn leaves (yellow) and puts it on a dark background; and the last reverses the colours. All are done with acrylic paints of varying quality and thickness on heavy-duty watercolour paper.

The point of the exercise for me was not to achieve great art. It was to attempt something creative. It was not so important that it was done well than that I should make the attempt. And that is the point. One of the tools/strategies for dealing with depression is to give ourselves permission to do things that we like. “Am I allowed to enjoy myself?” might seem like a strange question but for me it was one, along with “Am I allowed to be happy?”, that has hovered just beneath conscious thought for years; and the default answer seemed to be “No”. Not always ‘no’ but usually ‘no’. For me, these paintings represent my challenge to that unhelpful assumption. I did something that I enjoyed without having to ask permission. One step towards recovery.

Bugs don’t write poems…

… is a line from “The Bug and the Butterfly”, a story in English and Spanish for all the family. Or, as the brochure puts it, “Dance and music fuse with Spanish and English text in this exciting new show for adults and children alike”. We were in the crypt, so to speak, of the theatre and we were invited to sit on the leaf-shaped carpet pieces on the floor. I bottled out and sat on one of the handful of chairs assigned to grown ups who couldn’t cope with the floor. (My family may testify to my propensity for pins and needles if I sit on the floor for any length of time.)

I’m afraid for all its merits it was not quite what it said on the tin. For example, there were maybe a dozen or so Spanish words, none of which were crucial to the plot. This was a bit of a pity because one of the selling points for us was the Spanish which we are beginning to learn. The plot itself was essentially:

  • Bug starts to write poem
  • no on wants to listen
  • Bug meets Butterfly who listens to work in progress
  • Butterfly breaks wing
  • Wing gets better and Butterfly departs
  • Bug finishes her poem

To its credit this did hold the attention of the under fives in the audience for over half an hour – but not mine, I’m afraid. For me the best bit was when the bug character wafted the poppy leaf a bit too vigorously and knocked off some of her glittery make up. The sparkling motes dancing and flashing in the stage light were pleasing to watch and that helped to pass the time while the plot ambled on.

The two supporting actors played a number of characters and can be commended for their versatility. And I can hardly criticise any of the three for their lithe dance and movement as any such dancing I attempt resembles a blue whale with a moderate sense of timing rather more than ballet. (I can remember 5th position but I’m not so sure about 3rd and 4th).

I did not attend the family workshop which followed immediately afterwards but the reports I got afterwards were somewhat faint praise.

As none of our party were under five we didn’t enjoy The Bug and the Butterfly as much as we would have wanted. But I reckon a four-year-old would easily give 8 or more out of ten.

%d bloggers like this: